Sunday, 10 November 2019

Pumpkins Twenty to Twenty Two: Growing your own pumpkins

I am going to rush through the next two pumpkins, so I can talk about the pumpkin I have been waiting to carve for most of the year...

Pumpkin Twenty - Skull (On Redbubble)

Pumpkin Twenty One - St Monan's Kirk

In preparation for my carving extravaganza, I bought some pumpkin seeds and pretty much converted my entire garden into a messy pumpkin patch. I have never grown pumpkins before, and I am no expert, so I won't give you any tips, I will just describe what I did.

I bought some Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds, and planted them all along my flower beds, not realising how big the plants would grow and where they would grow. I put down some fresh compost and miracle grow, and kept them well watered. When they started growing right across my lawn (oops), I removed some of the pumpkins that started growing, so those that were growing would get a bit bigger. Later, I fed them a bit of tomato fertiliser, and lifted them off the grass so the air could get underneath them, but on the whole, I just kept them watered and let them get on with it. The one I carved the Pittenweem West Shore, was the only pumpkin on it's plant. and here is my baby growing...

It didn't fully ripen in time, so I left it outside longer than I probably should have done, hoping it would lose a bit more of it's green. Although I caught this one in time, I did lose four home grown pumpkins, as the stalks got too wet, and even though I brought them inside before they showed any sign of it, they started to rot, and I couldn't carve quick enough to keep up with how quickly they were decomposing.

Next year, I plan to start my pumpkin plants inside, so they will be a bit further along in the season, and I will finish off their ripening inside.

I chose a view of Pittenweem West Shore for this pumpkin, as it was the right shape, and big enough to be able to include a lot of the detail, although this proved a bit trickier than I thought it would.

The carve took me two days, and by the end I could barely move my hand, but it proved my most popular carving to date (although my personal favourite is still Low Light).

My favourite bits of the carving are the lamp post on Calmans Wynd and the clock in the Tolbooth tower. Both of which I used a pin to poke all the way through the pumpkin to let the light shine through, and the lamp post was created by making little cuts and inserting slithers of pumpkin skin.

Close up of detail

Pumpkin Twenty Two: Pittenweem West Shore

I uploaded the unedited photo to RedBubble...

But then I discovered the photoshop tool for imposing a rainbow over an image, so I uploaded a rainbow version as well, because who doesn't need rainbow Pittenweem socks from a carved pumpkin?

Monday, 4 November 2019

Pumpkins Sixteen to Nineteen: Some of my many mistakes and how I tried to fix them

 Pumpkin Sixteen: Pittenweem Gyles (First Attempt)

Right from the start of this pumpkin, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I was distracted, making mistakes, and just not really interested, even though I had been looking forward to this scene.

Halfway through carving, I somehow switched between source photos, so my shadows were going in two different directions and the angles weren't quite right on the buildings. I accidentally cut windows out, and went right through the flesh twice. I also got my first minor cut from the U Gouge flicking through the pumpkin flesh and into my finger.

But it gave me an opportunity to experiment with some 'fixes', and show that I don't always get my carvings right the first time, and the benefits of trying again.

Pumpkin Seventeen: Pittenweem Gyles (Second Attempt)

Get the pumpkin properly prepared!

My most common mistake is rushing into carving without properly scraping the inside of the pumpkin down to a workable level. When I first started carving, I thought having a good 4cm of flesh would mean I could get a lot of tonal variation; I have since learned that about 1.5 cm is the best, and most of the pumpkins I messed up this year were because I was trying to carve into pumpkin where the flesh was too deep and sometimes uneven.

Pumpkin Flop 2019 - this failed as the flesh was too deep.

Pumpkin Nineteen - Seagull
Lots of detailed carving was lost on this one as the flesh was too deep to show it

(I will get a seagull one day, but it's not been a good start!)

Below is my first attempt at the Lighthouse, Low Light, on the Isle of May. As the pumpkin flesh was very thick, and not evenly distributed, the top of the tower became much darker, as the light was going through a lot more flesh. It also meant that some bits of the carving were sticking out about 3cm, which gets a bit tricky when working on other areas.

To try and save the Low Light pumpkin, I tried scratching off some more flesh from the inside, focusing on the bottom half. This resulted in me poking a hole in the wall at the front corner, meaning the light came through a bit too strongly, despite some patching. However, it also created a lovely fluffy cloud like effect where I used the U gouge to cut out deep, slightly rough grooves in the grass. not great for a grass effect, but something I hope to utilise in the future at some point.

Low Light - First attempt. I didn't give this pumpkin a number.

Patching Areas 

The light bit to the left of the tower is where I accidentally scraped through the flesh completely, and had to patch it with some fresh shavings of pumpkin flesh which I got by using the U gouge to remove thin layers of skinless Pumpkin flesh, I carefully laid these over the hole, and then used some soft goopy flesh which I got from scraping the sky with a flat edged sharp tool to smooth the finish. It's not ideal, but patches an image you may want to save. This technique can also be used for a hole you have dug a bit too deep to darken it.

If at First you don't Succeed

In the end, I used the ultimate fixing tool. I did it again... And I got what is so far my favourite pumpkin of 2019. (I am a bit behind with the blog, so I am up to pumpkin 24).

Pumpkin Eighteen: Low Light, Isle of May, Second Attempt 

This image made its way onto my RedBubble shop. Have a look at the 70+ different things you can get with this image on it ;-)

Below is a rather dramatic example of how retrying the same pumpkin carving can yield dramatically different results. These were from last year, when I was still very new to carving pumpkins. I had just carved two pumpkins before this, and only one using the shading technique of whittling away flesh to different levels.

Pamela Coleman Smith Attempt One
Please don't laugh, it was only the third pumpkin I ever carved!

Pamela Coleman Smith, Second Attempt
And this was the fourth pumpkin I carved

If you make a mistake, or aren't good at this straight away, don't worry, practice and if you want to redo a pumpkin, redo it!

Oops! I cut off a window!

This happened to me very early on in my pumpkin challenge, and actually helped me come up with a technique which I now use deliberately, even if I don't accidentally cut off a window.

Whilst working on my cartoon fishing boat, which had three dark windows sticking out about 3cm against a white cabin, I accidentally cut through the bottom of one of the windows.

At first I tried propping the window up with shavings of flesh stacked underneath the window, but it was too visible. So I tried cutting a little hole at the bottom and pushing the window through it, so it had the depth of flesh to be dark, but it didn't stick out as much. As you can see from the photo on the left hand side, you can see quite a bit of the side of the protruding windows. After I inserted one window, they didn't all match, so I cut out the whole base of the windows, and inserted the three windows, packing the gaps between them with shavings of pumpkin flesh. The result was much better than it would have been if I had never accidentally cut off the window.

This technique is really useful for small windows, tightly packed windows, or any design where you have small dark shapes against a paler background. If you lose the original shape, you can use a craft knife to cut out a small deep section of pumpkin from the base of the pumpkin, and use that to insert into a small hole. The final shape will have a slight halo around it, but that adds to the charm.

Using pumpkin skin for small details.

I started doing this when my original weather vane for the Dreel Halls, which I had painstakingly cut out, looked far too dark and large, looming over the top of the spire. So I cut it off, smoothed the sky out with a flat sharp knife and then cut a couple of little grooves in the flesh, but not all the way through. I then cut up bits of thin shavings with the skin still attached and used tweezers to insert these into the holes. To make the fish, I folded one bit of skin over.

I later used this technique for the windows of the Low Light Lighthouse, and since then many other windows, lamp posts, etc. which requires a small thin line of darkness.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Pumpkins Twelve to Fifteen: Local scenes and my pumpkin tool box

I have been working on a few scenes from the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland over the last few days. I still have a few more scenes I want to do, but thought I would post these images and write a bit about the tools I have been using and things I have learned.

Pumpkin Twelve: Saint Monans Windmill

I like the mottled look for the stone on this pumpkin, but I didn't go light enough for the sky and the steps and wall messed up the image a bit. I have put this image in a folder for the designs I will be trying again next year.

I created this design with two U gouges, a wider, shallower one and a smaller deeper one, and a craft knife for the detail in the fence and the sails. The narrow U gouge is great for poking into the pumpkin and flicking out bits of flesh to create an uneven stone wall effect. By leaving some skin intact in places, darker stones and shadows are formed, and by using a pin to scratch out lines and shapes, lighter its of mortar can be created.

 Pumpkin Thirteen: St Andrews Cathedral

As you can see I got the sky a bit lighter in this version, and was rewarded for my efforts! It felt like I was being a bit dramatic, and was worried it wouldn't work, but I scooped out most of the flesh behind the cathedral and then I smoothed it out with another tool from my kit which I hadn't used yet, which is flat with a sharp edge at the end.

For the effect around the arch, I used a shallow U Gouge to remove the thinnest layer of skin in a radiating pattern. To be honest, this was initially to save time as carving all the bricks in would have taken a long time, but the effect worked well!

 Pumpkin Fourteen: The Dreel Halls, Anstruther

I used most of the same techniques as with the St Andrews Cathedral, digging the sky out, but for a much larger space, so I got the curve and the lines of the pumpkin in the sky.

 Using a shallow U Gouge to scoop out large chunks of pumpkin flesh

Smoothing down the sky to create a more even effect

Using a smaller flat tool to partially smooth out the rough wall of the Dreel Halls

I found the trees worked very well in this design. I used a craft knife to dig out small spaces, going as deep as I could, but not so deep that I risked damaging the bits of skin that I was leaving. Originally, there were trees on both sides of this design, but it took too long to do the ones on the left hand side, so I removed the rest of them.

Using a craft knife to dig out the negative space between branches.

I used a long pin to scratch grooves in the roofs to give the impression of tiles, and stuck the smaller U gouge most of the way through the pumpkin to create small curved holes for the gravestones.

When I took the photo of this design, the detail of the weather vane was far too dark and prominent, so I cut the whole thing off, used the craft knife to slice thin holes into the pumpkin flesh sky, and used tweezers to insert long strips of pumpkin skin shavings to create an impression of the weather vane.

 Pumpkin Fifteen: Street Lamp on West Wynd, Pittenweem

I have been looking forward to doing this design for a while, and although it looks okay, I don't think I did it justice. Maybe I'll have another go next year and take the time to get a better source photo to work from, as the street lights in Pittenweem are so fantastic.

In this design, I didn't go quite as deep for the sky, so I had some extra depth to create the effect of the lamp shining. A small ridge of flesh at the edge of the light shows the shape of the lamp, and leaving the skin on for the black metal creates a nice silhouette, except I picked a bit of a gnarly bit of the pumpkin to carve this on, so there is a bit of a wobble.


You can carve a pumpkin with just a kitchen knife, but if you want to make things easier on yourself and get a bit more serious, I would seriously suggest picking up a couple of good U gouge or two and a good craft knife.

Over the last week, I have discovered there is a thing for carving foam pumpkins, and a whole other craft of using electric tolls on fake and 'real' kins. I only hand carve real pumpkins, so that is what my advice is based on.

  • Kitchen knife for cutting the initial hole into the pumpkin.
  • Spoon for scooping out the pumpkin guts and smoothing the insides. I have seen special spoons with spiky edges for dragging out the guts, which look useful, but I haven't tried them.
  • Bowl to put the pumpkins guts in, but also when I am carving, I have one handy to put all the carving debris in, partly to keep it tidy, but also as this debris can be useful later in the carving process.
  • Craft knife, with a good sharp blade. I have one with six different heads, but mostly use the traditional scalpel head. I occasionally use a sharper, narrower blade and have started using the sharp flat head, but I could live without them.
  • U Gouges are my next go to tool. I find them great for scraping off pumpkin skin, scooping out chunks of flesh, digging down the side of areas where it goes from very dark to very light, and perfect for creating the mottled effect of old stone walls. I had a good quality one from when I was planning to take up Moku Hanga, (which is still on my to do list), and three different sized U gouges came with a cheap woodcarving tool set I bought for this challenge. I use my original one most, as it is much sharper, but the small one from the set has become indispensable. Although I probably would go for buying one good quality tool over a whole set next time.
  • Flat cutting tools/chisels are great for smoothing out flesh, or partially smoothing it out, if you want to keep a slightly rustic look. I have a sharp wide one, which I use for sky and large smooth spaces, and a smaller narrower one which is good for smaller spaces, but isn't as sharp, so doesn't smooth the flesh out so well.
  • Pins, cocktails sticks, awls, etc are great for poking holes through the pumpkin to get pin points of light, or to scratch rough patterns in to skin or flesh to show things like tiles. They can also be useful for digging out the flesh in very narrow spaces.
  • Tweezers I find very useful for keeping the work area of the pumpkin clean, as a stray bit of flesh or skin can easily get lodged in a groove and alter the final image.
  • Clay modelling tools, clay ribbon cutters, potato peelers, forks, cuticle cutters, and pretty much anything that can dent or cut could be useful.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

East Neuk Open Studios: Winter Showcase Exhibition

Jumping ahead to next month, myself and 44 other local artists will be exhibiting in Pittenweem Church Hall as part of East Neuk Open Studios on 16-17 November 2019.

Why not pop in and have a look at our artwork and crafts. Teas, coffees and home baking will also be available, and entrance is free.

For more information please see the ENOS website:

Friday, 18 October 2019

Pumpkins Nine, Ten and Eleven: Celtic Knots and Life After Carving

I'm still not well, so I've been keeping it simple with some Celtic knots. They are easy to do and look really effective. They also offer lots of fun opportunities to play around with photoshop once the image has been finished.

Pumpkin Nine, Celtic Cross 1

Pumpkin Ten, Celtic Cross 2

Pumpkin Eleven, Celtic Cross 3

To make a Celtic knot, make a template of the size you want the carving to be, mark out the shape onto the pumpkin (I use a craft knife and cut through a print out taped to the surface).

For the dark lines around the cross, leave the skin intact.

For the background, use a sharp tool to carefully remove the skin, but no more. 

For the lines in the middle, at the edges where the lines look like they go underneath other lines, remove as little flesh as possible. For the parts of the lines where it looks like the line is going over another line, carve as deep as you can without going all the way through the pumpkin flesh. Join these areas up ensuring the gradient is smooth and there are no sudden jumps in levels. 

Life (for the Pumpkin) After Carving

Some people spray their pumpkins with a mix of bleach and water every day or so. This will extend the life of the pumpkin for a couple of weeks. However, I like to keep my art as natural and environmental as possible, so my carvings only last a couple of days. The 'end game' for me is getting a good photo and the compost bin getting a top up. 

I am pretty much a beginner when it comes to photography, so I won't give any advice on this topic, beyond saying that I use a Canon EOS 750D, tripod, remote control, and the candlelight setting.

When I think I have finished carving, I set up the pumpkin with the desired light level, take photos, load them on the computer, then see where I need to tweak the carving. It usually takes a few cycles to fine tune the pumpkin and get the photo I am happy with.

Once I have the photo, if I think the carving is good enough, I upload the image to RedBubble. Normally I don't photoshop the image beyond cutting the primary image from its background. However, with these Celtic knots, I had some fun playing around with altering the colours using Photoshop's adjust hue setting.

Original and Photoshopped Celtic knots

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Pumpkins Six, Seven and Eight, and dealing with curves on a pumpkin

Pumpkin Number Six

Otter, Pumpkin Number Six

I love the effects I had started to get on this pumpkin, I carved the light and dark areas using a wide U Gouge, and then carved regular shapes into the pumpkin to get the coarse wet fur texture. 

Otter Pumpkin, close up of detail

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get the nose right, so in the end, I gave up on this design, as it was late and I wasn't very well.

Pumpkin Number Seven

Sparrow, Pumpkin Number Seven

After a couple of days convalescing, I tried to get back to carving. I wasn't really in the right frame of mind, or feeling up to it, but I liked this carving, as it only took me a couple of hours to do, so I could get an early night.

Pumpkin Number Eight

A nasty bug means that I am struggling to keep up with the challenge, and pumpkins six and seven were a bit under par, so with this pumpkin, I tried a bit harder, and I was happy with the result:

Tabby Cat, Pumpkin Number Eight

Available on RedBubble here

Tabby Cat, Unlit

To get this image, I had to stretch the top and bottom parts of the picture, so where the pumpkin curved away, the image remained correctly proportioned when viewed from the front.

I came up with an easy way to help pumpkin newbies work out how much stretch they may need to apply to an image, taking into account the curves of the pumpkin.

Obviously, it's easier to get a nice large pumpkin with an almost flat surface to carve your image, but sometimes, life just throws you a chubby, round pumpkin, or you go mad and decide to give yourself a challenge.

This technique won't work for wider images that will distort as they go around the side of the pumpkin.

Take the image you want to carve onto the pumpkin, and attach it to the pumpkin like below.

Take a long pin and carefully push it through the paper, then make sure it does not veer sideways or up and down, and push it into the pumpkin a little way to leave a small marker.

Go around the image, making little markers at regular intervals, so you have an idea of how the image will lie on the pumpkin. You can then join the dots with a craft knife, or just start carving away using the markers as reference points as you create.

When carving the top and bottom parts of the image, you'll need to angle the cuts, so the light isn't blocked by the sides of the grooves.

Or you can create nice effects cutting into the sides of the grooves to create effects like fur, as I did with the cat's ears in this design. Either way, remember the light won't reach the eye the same way as it will do around the middle of the pumpkin.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index: